Skip to comments.The Spitfire - an appreciation (75th anniversary)
Posted on 03/06/2011 7:12:13 PM PST by sukhoi-30mki
The Spitfire - - an appreciation
By George Kerevan
75 years ago today, as darkness loomed across Europe, an achingly beautiful aircraft soared into the heavens on its maiden flight. The plane would become both an eight-gunned instrument of freedom and a near-spiritual symbol of it. The Spitfire was born.
AT 4:35pm on the afternoon of 5 March, 1936, a pilot called Joseph 'Mutt' Summers walked across the grass of Southampton Airport - currently a hub for Flybe. Summers had spent a tiring day testing a new RAF bomber. Now, he had to squeeze in the first flight of a new fighter called the "Spitfire". A plane that would become a legend and - arguably - hold the pass in 1940 long enough to save us from fascism.
But in 1936, the conventional wisdom in Britain was that "the bomber would always get through". Many considered new fighter planes like the Spitfire a waste of money.
Mutt Summers pressed the starter button and the Spitfire took to the air for the first time. Unlike the wood and canvass biplanes then serving as the RAF's frontline fighters, the Spit was a monoplane of all-metal construction. It had a retractable undercarriage and a fantastic speed of over 350mph. In combat it would be armed with eight machine guns. At last, here was something that would stop any bomber.
The Spitfire was the inspired creation of a true engineering genius, Reginald Joseph Mitchell. He was born in 1895, the son of two Stoke-on-Trent primary school teachers. His poor background precluded university, so he began an
(Excerpt) Read more at living.scotsman.com ...
I think President Reagan recited that Poem in his speech following the Challenger disaster.
The other British fighter, the Hurricane, should get some credit for saving Britain as well. Pilots in Hurricanes shot down a good share of those German bombers and fighters.
Actually Hurricanes had 61 percent of the kills during the Battle of Britain, if memory serves.
On August 10th, the Luftwaffe had some 2300 aircraft, with 1029 of them being single and twin-engined fighters.
The RAF possessed 702 operational aircraft, with 289 in reserve. 620 were a mixture of Hurricanes and Spitfires, with the rest rounded out by obsolete or aging craft.
Apparently, the English enjoyed one large advantage; The Chain Home radar network. With a 185 mile range, the RAF could meet the incoming formations, knowing the range and direction and scramble effectively.
All that being said, truly a miracle. Hats off to the Brits.
But even above them I think the Mustang was the sexiest and best aircraft of WW2.
I would love to fly either one of them.
The only aircraft capable of that speed was the ME-262. The Germans were also using rocket planes that only had enough air time to blaze through a formation, then nose down for another pass. Apparently these craft were more hazardous to the German pilots than the Allied bombers.
The Brits had another huge advantage. If their planes were shot down and the pilot bailed out, they could often fly again the same day.
If the British plane crash landed they were able to either repair it or at the least use much of it’s parts.
The Germans also had to fly back over the channel, often damaged. If they fell into the channel the British made prisoners of them.
For the German planes which crashed the British could often salvage a lot of the critical metals in them.
He did, an abbreviated version of it.
I agree. Once they super-charged that Merlin, I would say it was the greatest aircraft produced during the war.
They got the bombers after the Spits wiped the floor with the 109s.
An excellent point, and just as important as the other advantages. Having that experienced pilot living to fight another day, or actually the same day as you noted.
Alex Henshaw, Spitfire test pilot, speaking in 2005:
“Those young men went into combat with only five or six hours’ flying experience in it.
“If it had not been for the Spitfire, a wonderfully easy aircraft to fly, they would not have survived. If it had not been for the Spitfire, Britain would not have survived.”
Tie goes to the Spit...
The 109 met its fate when the P51 Mustang arrived in 1944.
Brits tried to keep radar secret as long as possible. There was an elaborate ruse to make people believe that superior night vision of the British pilots led to enemy planes being detected abd shot down over the Channel. It was reported that night vision was improved by eating carrots and whitefish. To make the ruse complete, there was a national effort to get everyone to grow and eat carrots so they too could contribute to the war effort. While carrots are good for you and are a cheap source of food, they don’t give you superhuman night vision.
They also shot down their share of 109s. There were not enough spits to handle the load, without the hurricanes they couldn’t have held the line. BTW, the FW190 was superior to the spit and just about every other allied fighter until the Mustang(with the Merlin engine)showed up.
Another interesting story is that the development of intraocular lenses came about from the observation that the shattered shards of acrylic from Spitfire windscreens was inert in the human eye. Harold Ridley made the observation when examining the eyes of Spitfire pilots with facial injuries. He saw that the eyes were quiet with no invasive vessel growth or fibrotic scar tissue. He immediately realized that the PMMA material would be ideal for creating IOLs for cataract patients.
Radar in WWII was interesting. The Germans actually were technologically ahead of the British on radar but the British went ahead and began using it earlier.
Also Churchill noted in one of his six volume history of WWII, that the radar stations turned out to be very resistant to bomb damage.
Ehhh...what's up, doc?
I find this pretty amusing. Engaging the whole population in this ruse. I get the mental picture of some German being handed a message and saying,"Was ist dieses? Karotten?" (What is this? Carrots?)
My dad flew all three in combat. He loved the Spitfire for its beauty and maneuverability, but felt that overall, the Mustang put all other fighters in the shade.
Mosquito NFs had the 4 30cal machine guns in the nose replaced by radar. Their armament was 4 20mm cannon in the lower fuselage.
That is what I thought. I asked him basically if his was guns or bombs. I didn’t want to argue with his response. He is very old and frail and deaf in one ear.
When he said 50 cal I immediately thought of the typical American fighters.
Another tactic, when a 262 was on your tail, was to drop the throttle, hit the air brakes and fall off sharply to the left or right.
Then hit the power, go nose up...and you'd find the 262 screaming past you...and straight into your sights.
I was being sarcastic about the claim of a 550 mph top speed of later Spitfires. :)
I’ve flown a lot of the wwII fighters in online battle arenas. Those 262’s are a pain until you get up to speed. And even then, about the ONLY thing they have going for them is speed. But that can be a lot.
“The record for the fastest single-engined piston plane is held by a modified Grumman F8F Bearcat, the Rare Bear, with a speed of 850.24 km/h (528.31 mph) on 21 August 1989 at Las Vegas, Nevada, United States of America.”
I’ve seen Rare Bear fly at Reno. You don’t so much hear it as you do feel it.
Works for me! ........................ FRegards
LOL...I was actually giving him the benefit of the doubt of a typo over speaking out of his butt...
About ten years ago I was working in my driveway on a lovely Saturday morning. Just then I heard the faint but increasing sound of something strangely familiar. A moment later a P-51D flew right over my house at about 1000 feet. It took me two hours to calm down. A great way to start the day!
A few years later the Mustang showed up and settled the argument.
The Mustang was not a good fighter until they put the Merlin engine in it.
I had a similar experience with a P-47. It must have been unforgettable to hear a formation of those flying overhead.
Probably the fastest propeller fighter on the allied side:
Still a beautifull plane after all these years.
Look at the poor Typhoon! It has its slats and flaps out to keep from falling out out the sky!
I got to see a Spitfire fly at Duxford. What a lovely noise..
What a coincidence, my dad was an RAF cadet who trained at Falcon Field in Mesa. The Chinese cadets would have been across town at Thunderbird Field in Glendale.
My dad’s service was fairly late in the war and though he wanted more than anything to be a front line fighter pilot, they had him stuck on an operational training squadron. He had a few fruitless shows in the Hurricane, Spitfire, and Mustang III, including a couple of unopposed bomber escorts to France and Belgium, but mostly spent his days instructing, flying radio relays, target drones, mail runs, and other such drudgery.
But he was a skilled bridge player, and was therefore recruited by an RAF Group Captain several ranks up his chain of command to be his partner. My dad helped him win for several months until the senior guy was reassigned elsewhere, and as a favor he got my dad posted to 19 Squadron late in 1944.
This late in the war the Allies had widespread air supremacy, and 19 Sqn. were getting as much fighting as anyone else in the European Theater, escorting Beaufighters to Norway in the Mustang IV (i.e. P-51D). They saw plenty of air to air and air to ground action, and even got in a big dogfight with the entire Ace of Spades squadron of the Luftwaffe. He saw two of his best friends shot down the day before VE day, can you imagine?
Nothing sounds like a Spitfire. A noise of beauty.
In honor of Pulaski Day, the classic scene in The Battle of Britain, featuring the 303rd Kosciuszko Squadron. The Poles mostly flew Hurricanes, not Spitfires, though.
It sure did when they used them in hydroplanes of the 50s & 60s. Especially when they hit the nitrous oxide on the back stretch !